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The Turn of the Screw, Ambiguity.

In: Novels

Submitted By aliensroom
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How successfully does the black-and-white film version of The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), render the ambiguity of James' original text? Ambiguity, the art of deliberately creating something that can have more than one meaning, lends itself to the written word without difficulty. A written story can involve ambiguity in the characters, plot, narrative - every factor in the story can have to it a sense of uncertainty. However, uncertainty concerning ambiguity is subtly different from uncertainty involving vagueness; the former is a deliberate ploy by the writer to leave interpretation open to the reader's own imagination, whereas the latter comes about due to a lack of detail delivered on the part of the writer, probably due to lack of talent or attention.

With The Turn of the Screw, Henry James crafted an immensely complex and highly ambiguous book - there is nothing vague here; when Jack Clayton decided to make it into a film, he faced an upward struggle. Adapting a book for a film is always beset with difficulties - the written word has the ability to be far more subtle than the projected frame - but capturing the ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw would be immensely difficult. Words do not have to be precise in their meaning but a picture on a cinema screen is just a picture - there is little subtlety or uncertainty. A director has to employ imaginative techniques to make a viewer doubt what he is so evidently seeing. This was especially true in 1961, when The Innocents was produced, a time before sophisticated visual effects came into use.

Almost all of The Turn of the Screw is open to alternate interpretation to some extent; some people even suggest that the story and the characters in it are only in the governess' imagination, others elaborate upon that by saying that she is in a mental hospital and Mrs Grose...

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